Painted with the birth of St. John the Baptist in a Renaissance setting, the scene in a large vaulted chamber, St. Elizabeth reclining on a canopied bed, a woman helping her and other female attendants nearby, a woman suckling a baby to the right by a table laid with plates of food and a salt, a servant carrying a ewer and a bottle, a terrier dog before them, a group of women bathing St. John on the left before a servant carrying a cot and another drying clothes by a fire, with Christ appearing in a Venetian window above flanked by two angels, within a blue line and ochre band rim, the reverse inscribed in pletiS Sunt dieS ut pareret et peterint filium Suum primogenitum in blue within two concentric ochre bands (four cracks from rim to well, shorter crack from rim to border, slight rim chips, slight scratching to area around edge of well, very slight chipping to footrim)
15½ in. (39.3) cm. diam.
Carmen Ravanelli Guidotti, 'Per il "Pittore del bacile di Apollo" due restauri e un inedita', in Faenza, XCVII, 2011, p. 25, figs. 4a and b.

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Lot Essay

The inscription, in pletiS Sunt dieS ut pareret et peterint filium Suum primogenitum (impleti sunt dies ut pareret, et peperit filium suum primogenitum) comes from the Gospel according to St. Luke, and translates as 'The day arrived when she gave birth. And she bore a son, her first born'. A similar depiction of the subject appears in a 16th century engraving of The Birth of John the Baptist. The authorship of the print is contested; S. Massari considers it to have been executed by Diana Ghisi (Scultori), but P. Bellini has called this attribution into question. Other scholars have suggested that it was engraved by C. Cort.1 If the print was executed by Diana Scultori, the date of the print would be too late for this charger, which is undoubtedly earlier, so the scene would have to have been taken from a different source.

Carmen Ravanelli Guidotti, ibid, has identified that the source is ultimately derived from a drawing by Giulio Romano. The drawing was mentioned by Vasari2 and it is recorded as being in the Pierre Crozat Collection in the 18th century,3 but it is now lost. There are two surviving copies of the drawing, one of which is in Windsor Castle (inv. 1538), and the other, which was in the Ernst Mercklin Collection, Berlin, was sold by Christie's London on 25th June 1968, lot 50. It is also possible that the decoration of this charger may have been derived from a different, earlier, print of the subject which has now been lost.

In her article, Ravanelli Guidotti identified the author of this charger as 'The Painter of the Apollo Basin', the name given by John Mallet4 to the anonymous painter of a piece in Pesaro which is dated 1532.5 This anonymous painter 'liked taking forceful figures from engravings',6 and he appears to have frequently favoured transposing scenes from prints in their entirety, as is the case here. On this charger the entire rectangular drawing has been transposed onto a circular surface with remarkable success, with only subtle changes made in order to fit it to the round shape.

It is not known exactly where the The Painter of the Apollo Basin worked. Mallet suggests that in the 1520s he may have painted grotesques, and as a number of the pieces attributed to him, as with the present charger, are very close to the style of Nicola da Urbino, Mallet has suggested that the painter probably worked in Urbino. Of the pieces which have so far been identified as by 'The Painter of the Apollo Basin', the dated pieces have dates between 1528 and 1532. In their discussion of the lustred piece in the British Museum attributed by Mallet to the painter, Thornton and Wilson point out that 'all four of the pieces dated 1531 which Mallet attributes to him are lustred; this fact and the way the lustre is used as an integral part of the pictorial conception suggest that this plate was both painted and lustred in Maestro Giorgio's workshop in Gubbio.'7 The decoration of the present charger bears a close relationship with Nicola da Urbino's style of the second half of the 1520s, and if this charger was painted in Urbino, which seems very probable, the luminosity of the colours suggest a late 1520s date.

At the time of publication of Mallet's article, and of the British Museum catalogue by Thornton and Wilson, it was thought that 'no piece attributed to him has handwriting on the back', but Ravanelli Guidotti's discovery of this piece makes it the first piece known, to date, that bears an inscription on the reverse. Ravanelli Guidotti notes that a plate in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, which is painted with Marcus Curtius, bears an inscription on the reverse which she suggests is similar to the style of handwriting on the reverse of the present lot. The Marcus Curtius plate inscription records that it was painted in the workshop of Guido de Merlino in 1542. However, although there are similarities, there appear to be differences between the handwriting of the two inscriptions.8 It should also be noted that the inscription on the reverse of the present lot may not be The Painter of the Apollo Basin's own, and may the hand of another person working in the same workshop.

1. See Paolo Bellini, L'opera incise Adamo e Diana Scultori, Vicenza, 1991, pp. 266-268.
2. Vasari, pp. 550-551.
3. Mariette 1968, p. 379, no. 57.
4. J.V.G. Mallet, 'il Pittore del Bacile di Apollo', in Gian Carlo Bojani (ed.), La Maiolica italiana del Cinquecento. Il lustro eugubino e l'istoriato del ducato di Urbino, Atti del convegno di studi, Gubbio, 21, 22, 23, settembre 1998, Florence, 2002, pp. 85-112.
5. See Maria Mancini Della Chiara, Maioliche del Museo Civico di Pesaro, Catalogo, Bologna, 1979, no. 61.
6. Dora Thornton and Timothy Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics, A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection, London, 2009, Vol. I, p. 293, no. 172, where two figures appear to have been extracted from an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi.
7. Thornton and Wilson, ibid., Vol. II, p. 528.
8. Ravanelli Guidotti, ibid., p. 28. The Marcus Curtius plate is from the Stora and Friedsam Collections; bequeathed by Michael Friedsam to the Museum in 1931. The handwriting does not appear to be by the same hand, unless, perhaps, the Marcus Curtius plate inscription was written in haste. There are some differences between the two inscriptions, most notable being the execution of the letter u. On the present charger, the letter u appears in the inscription a number of times, and it is very precisely executed, showing the full curve at the base of the u on each occasion; whereas the letter u in the New York inscription does not show this.

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